Hives are used to hold a colony of bees thus protecting them from predators and the weather. Hives are also designed to allow the beekeer manage the bees in a way that to maximises honey production without encouraging swarming. Since the discovery of the "Bee Space" and the introduction of removable frames there have probably been as many ideas of that is the perfect design as there have been beekeepers. The "Bee Space" is the gap between and around frames, which the bees will tolerate without trying to enlarge or block off thereby reducing the tendency for bees to stick the frames together or tear down the comb. Here is a description of the parts that make-up a hive, what their function is and a short description of the different types of hives available.
The Floor is a flat board with raised edges on three sides, the open end has the entrance which can can be reduced by fitting an Entrance Block. The entrance block has a small cut-out for the bees to enter and exit that also acts as a small "doorway" which the bees can more easily protect to reduce the risk of wasps or other bees entering and robbing the hive. The floor is a vital piece of the hive, some beekeepers will have a solid floor to keep frost out others will have an open wire mesh floor to help remove the unwanted verroa from the hive and give good ventilation during the summer, the wire mesh is large enough to allow the verroa parasite to fall through but too fine to allow bees out or animals in. An entrance block is fitted to reduce access to the hive during the winter time to help keep the warmth in and unwanted visitors out, during the spring and summer it is removed. Usually this entrance block can be turned around 90 or 180 degrees to block the hive completely for transportation.
The Brood Box is placed on the floor and contains frames of comb and is the main nest or colony in which the queen resides, lays her eggs and the brood is raised. The volume of the brood box depends on the hive type and the number/size of frames it is designed to hold. The queen lives in here and lays her eggs, the bees will also store pollen, nectar and honey here that beekeepers leave purley for the bees.
On top of the brood box goes the Queen Excluder. This is a flat perforated sheet or metal grill through which the worker bees can pass. The restricted size prevents the larger queen from moving up to the next chamber or Super where the surplus honey is stored. In this way the bees are forced to contain their brood in the Brood Box. As the holes are too small to allow the slightly larger queen through the frames kept above the excluder and queen can be filled with honey which the beekeeper can remove when they are full with out any eggs in it.
Supers are more shallow than the brood box thereby providing a reasonably sized box to lift when full of honey. Some beekeepers use brood boxes as supers thereby allowing only one size of frame to be used throughout. This gives a very heavy load when full of honey and can weigh as much as sixty pounds. If the weather has been good and there is a lot of nectar to be collected some beekeepers may stack 2 or 3 supers full of frames on top of the brood box and queen excluder. Typically though a full frame will be and replaced with another super and fresh frames when full.
The supers are removed after the bees season to reduce the hive space, this helps the bees keep warm in winter.
Cover Boards are flat boards with a hole in the top and are used primarily as a cover on top of the brood and super boxes. The boards are also used to separate different parts of the hive, perhaps with a bee escape fitted into the hole or as a support for a feeder which if placed over the hole allows access to the feed but prevents the bees from getting above the feeder.
The last part is the Roof. This fits over the hive and down the sides for about 3 to 6 inches. The roof is usually covered in a thin sheet aluminium. Inside the roof is a rail around the inside to give a small air space. Between this rail and the inside top of the roof are ventilation holes with gauze placed over the holes to allow humid air out and stop insects getting in. Often beekeepers place a brick on a hive to add weight to stop the roof being blown off in strong winds.
The frames hold the thin sheets of foundation which the bees pull outwards to create the tiny hexagon shaped cells made of bees wax. The cells are used to lay eggs to raise bees or to store pollen, nectar and honey. The frame size depends on the type of hive you are using.
Types of hive
The Langstroth and Langstroth Jumbo
This is named after its designer the Rev L. L. Langstroth and is the most popular hive in the world but not in the UK. The UK, European and American Langstroths differ in size. The German frames are not much bigger than a UK National and the American Super frames are slightly deeper than the UK equivalent. In addition you can find a Jumbo Langstroth which has a deeper brood frame. That said it is a simple hive in construction and easy to maintain.
This the most popular hive in the UK and is therefore easiest for beekeepers to buy colonies on frames or buy or exchange equipment with other beekeepers. The frames have long lugs and overhang the walls of the hive hence the rebate front and back. This rebate serves as a handgrip when lifting the brood or supers. Some think the brood box is too small for modern prolific bees and add a super to the brood box to increase the space for the queen. This is referred to as "a brood and a half". Nice in theory but a nuisance when you have to find the queen. Having flat sides it is easy to strap the hive up for "migratory beekeeping" - moving the bees from one nectar source to another. The supers are the smallest of all hives and so the weight of a full super is the lightest of all hives.
This is named after its designer William Broughton Carr. It is a double walled hive in that the outer part is made up of splayed pyramid sections or "lifts" which protect separate loose boxes inside containing the frames. These are the classic hives of the past that you see on paintings and cards. In theory it is a good hive, cool in summer and warm in winter and ideal for bees. There is a standard for these hives but if you are buying second hand make sure that they are the same size as your other hives as they can vary. The main problems with them are that they are complicated in construction and extremely difficult to move to another site with bees in. In general they are considered old fashioned and many are now sold as garden ornaments and can attract a swarm from the residual propolis and beeswax in the wood. This hive takes National frames.
As its name implies, is favoured by commercial beekeepers having brood foundation measuring 16" x 10". Its size is such that it can be operated with standard National supers. This gives the best of both worlds in that you get a large brood area and light supers. Similar in appearance to the Langstroth it is also a single wall hive and is easy to work and maintain.
This is of Scottish origin and still popular there, being suited to colder weather and easily moved to the heather. A single walled hive similar to the Langstroth but smaller.
This hive is similar to the Langstroth but with deeper frames and slightly wider spacing. Favoured by many commercial beekeepers it can be very heavy to lift.
Top bar hives
The top-bar or Kenya-hives were developed as a lower-cost alternative to the standard Langstroth hives and equipment. They are used by some devotees in the United States, but are much more popular, due to their simplicity and low cost, in developing countries. Top-bar hives also have movable frames and make use of the concept of bee space. The name comes because the frames of the hive have only a top bar, not sides or a bottom bar. The beekeeper does not provide a foundation but the bees build the comb so it hangs down from the top bar. The hive body is often shaped as an inverted trapezoid in order to reduce the tendency of bees to attach the comb to the hive-body walls. A top bar hive is usually expanded horizontally in a single, much longer box, with all the frames hanging in parallel.
One issue is that the honey cannot be extracted by centrifuging because a top-bar frame does not have reinforced foundation or a full frame. This means the bees have to rebuild the comb after each harvest, and as a consequence it will yield more beeswax and less honey. The bees can still be induced to store the honey separately from the areas where they are raising the brood which means that bees do not need to be killed when harvesting the honey.
The different types of hives all have different sizes which can be confusing so here is a guide to hive sizes.